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  • Political Quake Hit Israel as DM Bolts Party

    Published on January 18, 2011

    Israel’s Defense Minister and Labor Party Chairman Ehud Barak announced Monday morning that he decided to quit his lifelong political connection with the Labor Party, to create a new faction, the “Independence Party.”

    Hours after Barak’s move, Welfare and Social Services Minister Isaac Herzog, Minority Affairs Minister Avishay Braverman and Trade, Industry and Labor Minister Binyamin Ben-Eliezer announced their resignation from the government as well.

    “We are leaving a party and home that we love,” Barak said during a press conference Monday morning.

    “Today we’re establishing a faction, a movement, and later a party, which will be centrist, Zionist and democratic,” he told reporters.

    Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu sadi Monday that Defense Minister Ehud Barak’s decision to step down from his leadership of the Labor Party would strengthen the governing coalition.

    “The government has grown much stronger today, in its governance, in its stability, and this is important for Israel,” Netanyahu said in reaction to Barak’s move. The prime minister added that Barak’s exit wouldn’t affect any peace talks with the Palestinians.

    “The whole world knows, and the Palestinians know, that this government will be around for the next few years and that it is with this government that they should negotiate for peace,” Netanyahu told reporters.

    But for many Israeli lawmakers, “the news came like a thunderbolt out of the blue,” according to several shocked Knesset parliamentarians speaking with local media.

    Barak took with him four other Labor parliamentarians, leaving the party with eight Knesset members. With the new Independence Party’s five Knesset members, Netanyahu’s right-of-center coalition is still able keep a majority in the parliament.

    “I intend to call upon my friends in the renewing Leftist camp to unite forces and embark on the true path of the founders of the Labor movement,” Israel’s Social Affairs Minister Isaac Herzog said at a press conference.

    “There are those who became confused between the Labor Party’s real purpose and Netanyahu’s agenda. We are on our way to the opposition and serving the State of Israel,” Herzog said.

    Herzog told reporters that he and Labor’s Shelly Yechimovitch will form a new Labor party. “The Labor Party has got rid of a hump on its back. Barak’s masquerade is over,” he said, adding that “my friends and I are on a mission to stabilize the Labor Party.”

    Meanwhile, Braverman said at a press conference that he has asked Ben-Eliezer to lead the party until a new party chief is elected.

    Ben-Eliezer, for his part, sharply derided Barak over his decision to leave the party, and said that late Labor Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin “was spinning in his grave,” over the step. But, Ben-Eliezer, insisted, the Labor party will still flourish but under younger management, saying that he “has no intentions of running for the chairmanship of the party.”

    “The Labor Party that I know for 26 years … is in a crisis,” Ben-Eliezer said, adding, however, that “I have no doubt that it will return.”

    Barak’s announcement took me by total surprise “I couldn’t believe that Ehud Barak who fled the party once would do it again, ” Ben-Eliezer said.

    A very public harbinger of the slow-motion tsunami overtaking Labor came at a major left-of-center demonstration against government policies held in Tel Aviv Saturday night.

    There, many in the estimated crowd of 10,000 protesters booed and hissed when Barak’s name was mentioned.

    As well, the crisis where comes in the wake of a recent internal crisis in Labor, where many members expressed their disappointment over the current government’s policies on the peace process, and appealed to the party to quit Netanyahu’s ruling coalition.

    Last Tuesday, Labor lawmaker Daniel Ben-Simon, a former journalist, struck a blow to the party by announcing his withdrawal with the stated aim of forming a one-man faction in the parliament, citing his disappointment with Labor and his failure to bring its members to leave the coalition.

    Not mincing words, Ben-Simon said, “For some months now I do not see eye to eye with the faction and the coalition. I’ve lost hope. Since it was not possible to withdraw as a group, I decided to expedite this move.”

    Ben-Eliezer, as a staunch advocate of the peace process with the Palestinians, announced in recent weeks that he personally would lead Labor out of the coalition in April unless the stymied process is resumed.

    “Barak’s abandonment allows for a renewal of the party and its return to social action and true vision,” Herzog told reporters.

    “This crisis gives us the chance to rebuild a strong movement. The Labor movement is on a new path,” he said.

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